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SHRM Helps Define "Supervisor"

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How does your organization define "supervisor"?

SHRM tried to help answer that question at a May 8 congressional hearing on the proper classification of a "supervisor" under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The impetus for the hearing was a series of three decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in late 2006, nicknamed the "Kentucky River Trilogy," which effectively expanded the definition of "supervisor." Under the NLRA, a supervisor is ineligible to join a union.

In response to the NLRB's "Trilogy" rulings, organized labor expressed strong criticism and Representative Robert Andrews (D-NJ) introduced legislation to reverse the NLRB's expanded definition. The Andrews bill is titled the "Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers Act" (RESPECT Act), H.R. 1644.

SHRM member and employment law attorney G. Roger King testified in support of the NLRB's interpretation of "supervisor" and in opposition to the RESPECT Act. King said that, "If the delicate and appropriate balance of power is not maintained in deciding which employees belong in the management ranks and which employees should be excluded, employers of all types will have considerable difficulty in effectively and efficiently running their businesses and achieving appropriate objectives."

King added, "Employers ultimately must have the complete loyalty of a sufficient number of 'supervisors' in their respective workforces if they are to deliver products, goods and services in an effective, productive and safe manner."

For its part, the NLRB has defended its "Kentucky River Trilogy" decisions by saying the rulings were in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2001 decision in NLRB v. Kentucky River Community Care, Inc. In that case, the Supreme Court found that the NLRB's test for determining how employees were classified as supervisors was too narrow and thus, "inconsistent" with the NLRA.

If you have questions about this legislation, please contact SHRM Manager of Labor and Employment Legislation Michael Layman at

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